Breaking Barriers to Build Bridges

Breaking Barriers to Build Bridges

The AV’s Team Opportunity for In-Store Innovation

By Laura Davis-Taylor

[EDITOR’S NOTE: Here, Laura Davis-Taylor delves deeper into her April 2010 presentation at the Digital Signage 2010 Virtual Event on the bridges between the traditional AV world, in-store digital media (ISDM), and brands. The retail environment used to be the realm of POP firms, and in-store promotions were just wood, steel, or cardboard displays. But with the rise of in-store digital media, the traditional AV integrator can bring needed skills to the table. How can integrators partner with the right entities, to establish a beachhead in the retail world?]

As much as I’ve written about retail strategy for this magazine, I’ve rarely addressed how retail service providers can better capitalize on our evergrowing industry. My presentation at the Digital Signage 2010 Virtual Event was specifically focused on how today’s AV integrators can get in the game and operate as an effective bridge between the many players and stakeholders. Let’s take a look at those issues and opportunities in current retail environment for digital communications.

For years, very few retailers were dabbling with in-store digital media and digital signage. Because of this, it was tough — if not impossible — for most service providers to get in on a project. Most were interested and wanted to play, but retailers were extremely cautious about who got into their inner circle to help them test out these foreign, new store media vehicles.

I can’t say that all retail has exploded with digital signage, but let’s face it — even corner coffee shops are now boasting small digital signs at the counter. It’s a fully socialized concept and more and more flavors and price levels of screens have emerged to make it feasible for everyone. Retailers of all sizes are seeing the benefits of using digital in-store, and this has served as a catalyst for more vendors to finally get involved.

As these events have unfolded, so have other industry change drivers. P&G made in-store marketing both sexy and necessary, turning the store into one of the most attractive places to message to a consumer. Fifty years of status quo marketing came under fire and the average CMO’s life span dwindled to 2-years. This CMO was also suddenly held to results rather than creative awards and the fluffy “brand perception” metric. The “store as a media” concept exploded — and continues a steady climb to mainstream acceptance.

But what kind of media vehicle is the store? This is a big debate. On the consumer side, we are now being assaulted with advertising everywhere we go — even airport security bins are now sporting them! Thousands of messages and millions of media vehicles are now competing for consumer attention and, more often than not, most brands have become louder and more obnoxious in their attempts to get noticed. Not a positive media experience for stores to model.

Finally, there’s the price issue. Consumers are empowered and they buy when they want, where they want, and for how much that they want. Retailers have to get beyond this, and the path to do so is murky at best.


WHERE RETAIL IS GOING

Retailers are responding to this perfect storm of sea change in many ways, with two key themes reigning supreme: retrenching and reinvention.

Today’s retailer has no choice but to differentiate everything about their brands, understand their shoppers and customers intimately, dialogue with them relevantly, delight them with their store experience, and constantly evolve the status quo of who they are and how they manifest their brands. They have to do more with less resource. And, for the first time, they have to work together internally more effectively because they’ve learned that things can now change on a dime — and there’s nothing they can do to prevent it. It’s a new day and they need our help.

DIGITAL: THE STORE CHANGE AGENT

Other than the physical associate, digital is one of the most powerful tools a retailer can capitalize on to create a better store experience. If a retailer plants themselves in the average shopper’s shoes, there aren’t many challenges or opportunities that can’t be properly addressed with the now-abundant assortment of one-way, two-way, and personalized screens available to them. But the key is how they choose to address each of these challenges and opportunities and if they can feasibly activate them amidst the ongoing internal turf battles, politicking, and (often) fickle executive support that they have to deal with.

We look to the internet and mobile world to inspire us regarding how we can better serve shoppers in-store with digital. What we’re missing is the ability to make store experiences more entertaining, relevant, and, in some cases, personalized. The ‘net does this well…and new location-based technologies are becoming available that can be used to service people on a first name, personalized basis — on their terms. Exciting tools like this continue to emerge that can fill stores with fun, exciting, relevant, and personal conversations, and this is the promise of DOOH. This is also your opportunity as a service provider or integrator.

YOUR LOW-HANGING FRUIT IN THIS MARKET

Here’s the thing — today, no one has the answers. Retailers have a lot on their plate and stressful challenges ahead. They need you to help them retrench and reinvent because they don’t have the answers or the time to dedicate towards staying on top of our industry’s ridiculously fast moving evolutionary path. Their agencies also need us, as they are brand spanking new to working in the store environment and learning as they go. Even POP firms that do understand the store and shoppers need you, as most have yet to get their hands into the nitty-gritty of in-store technology, integration, or field maintenance.

For vendors, the reality is that no one has created the industry benchmark for in-store digital media. And that means that we are all, small and large, fair game to be the first. To make this happen, the low-hanging fruit for all is to focus on the following:

• Help build the internal/external digital teams between departments, agencies, and vendors. You can be a bridge or you can be an island — it’s up to you, but everyone likes smart people that bring teams together in a positive way. Get in there!

• Bone up on what’s now available for traditional and nontraditional measurement and be proactive about helping to prove the retail project’s value. There’s a lot to learn and you can become an expert resource if you get ahead of this before it becomes mainstream.

• Keep your eyes peeled for hot service organizations, consulting firms, or freelancers to bring to the table when you see a gaping hole in the project’s team DNA. Your retail clients will need references, and there’s great upside in forming alliances for your own cross-selling purposes as well.

• Get off the digital signage bandwagon and think bigger — multi-screen integration is the future and your project today is likely a springboard for many future efforts. Also, as with measurement, if you get on top of a new ISDM trend early, you can become an expert resource quickly.

• Stay relevant and on the fringes…take a peek at the future and constantly track and share emerging technologies that make sense for your retail clients.

• Understand the vision of the integrated store infrastructure. Future stores will be integrating lots of data clouds, tech tools, and store ops systems to truly reinvent shopping and people like you are the ones that will have to make it happen.

As I hope we’ve made abundantly clear, there’s nothing to fear about working with retailers today and there’s no resource that has all of the answers. Your firm has every reason to get out there and get in the thick of it. The only thing holding you back is you!

Laura Davis-Taylor is VP of global retail strategy for Creative Realities, a global experiential branding and marketing firm that specializes in creating wow environments and customer experiences. Laura is a yearly co-chair of the Digital Signage Expo, chair of the POPAI Digital Signage Advocacy Committee, board member of The Digital Signage Experts Group, and an “expert resource” lecturer and workshop teacher. In 2007, she co-authored the first industry field book, “Lighting up the Aisle: Principles and Practices for In-store Digital Media” (www.lightinguptheaisle.com).